Robert Redford has never won an Academy Award for acting, but this could be the year his luck changes. All Is Lost is a magnificent one-man show that could win big-time.
As much as I hated the boring Wall Street ensemble talk-athon Margin Call, writer-director J. C. Chandor has switched gears dramatically, creating a breathtakingly exciting but minimalist survival-at-sea saga with a single character who speaks no more than a few words of dialogue yet keeps you frozen with concentration from start to finish. Of course, if you’re going to risk a whole movie on the roulette wheel of a single performance, you better bet the farm on Mr. Redford. At 77, he can no longer be mistaken for the glamorous 8 x 10 glossy from The Way We Were, but nobody can single-handedly hold a movie audience hostage for nearly two hours like he does. All Is Lost is movie magic on many levels but most importantly as the rare opportunity to watch a seasoned actor at the pinnacle of his power.
The narrative seems deceptively basic. About 1,700 nautical miles from the straits of Sumatra, a nameless sailor listed in the credits simply as Our Man, on a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean, awakens from a peaceful nap to discover his 39-foot sailboat has been broadsided by a floating cargo container from an unseen freighter, gashing a major rupture into the side.
He has enough gas to use the stove and open a can of organic beans, and there’s still the half-full bottle of Scotch in the galley to steady frayed nerves in an emergency. Despite the damage to the hull, he can survive—as long as he can fix the busted radio, the clean drinking
Mr. Chandor does an astoundingly economical job of chronicling each nautical triumph and devastating setback without the usual Hollywood action clichés. We know the man has a family he thinks he has failed, but nothing more is ever revealed. The film is, refreshingly, without unnecessary character analysis or numbing flashbacks, yet we know all we need to know about Our Man from what Mr. Redford sees and feels. It’s in his furrowed brow when he uses the sun to burn the brine out of the
Goodness knows what this movie would be like without the brute force of Mr. Redford’s intelligence, focus and self-confidence. Bruised and bleeding, it’s a physically and emotionally grueling role and a downright dangerous assignment, as well as something of an endurance test for Mr. Redford and the audience alike, with the star doing most of his own stunts and nearly drowning in the process. And the film contains so many of the Mr. Redford’s own personal qualities that it’s uncanny—the innate intuition to do the right thing when everything tanks, the calm demeanor in the eye of the storm, the perfectionism. Battered but durable as a scratched, second-hand tackle box, he’s still the Sundance Kid in boat sneakers. The face has grown rough as a bad detour, but hard knocks for originality and craft in an industry dedicated to imitation and fraud have earned him every line. It’s an honor to salute his longevity in a film as deserving as All Is Lost. For someone so terrified of
ALL IS LOST
Written by: J.C. Chandor
Directed by: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Robert Redford
Running time: 106 min.